A team of researchers from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is preparing to take flight and evade gravity in pursuit of science.
Team members are traveling to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to test an experiment known as the Ring-Sheared Drop. Developed by Marshall and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, New York, the experiment will study the formation of potentially destructive amyloid fibrils, or protein clusters, like those found in the brain tissue of patients battling neurodegenerative diseases — such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
In Earth-based experiments, researchers determined that amyloid fibrils may be created by shear flow, or the difference in flow velocity between adjacent layers of a liquid. In the case of ground experiments, that formation is affected by the presence of container walls and by convection, or the circular motion that occurs when warmer liquid rises while cooler liquid descends.
The goal now is to conduct experiments in microgravity — in a containerless reactor — where the liquid specimens form spherical drops, containing themselves via surface tension. Researchers will “pin” a droplet of liquid between two rings and cultivate amyloid fibrils for study.
The experiment was initially launched to the International Space Station in 2019. However, when the experiment failed, efforts began on Earth to improve the testing apparatus for future testing. Now, before the equipment is ready for another trip to the space station, the team will “practice” pinning liquid drops on a parabolic flight.
How exactly is weightlessness reached? A modified Boeing 727 — named G-Force One — achieves periods of variable gravity through a series of maneuvers called parabolas. The team will be able to interact with their hardware in zero gravity for 22 seconds at a time.
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, within the Space Technology Mission Directorate, makes these experiment flights possible by facilitating rapid demonstration of promising technologies for space exploration, discovery, and results benefit life on Earth.
The program matures capabilities needed for NASA missions and commercial applications while strategically investing in the growth of the U.S. commercial spaceflight industry.
The Ring-Sheared Drop team is scheduled to fly with their hardware April 28 and 29 on a parabolic flight managed by Zero G of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Continue to follow NASA’s Watch the Skies blog in the coming weeks for the latest updates on the team, the parabolic flight, and the results of the Ring-Sheared Drop experiment.